|Speaker John Boehner R-OH (Wikipedia)|
So this is what it comes down to. Reports are swirling that the number agreed to by Democrats and Republicans is roughly $40 billion. While Speaker of the House John Boehner R-OH, insists that a number is not set, it seems likely that it has. The sticking point, what may very well shut down the federal government tonight is Planned Parenthood. Republicans charge the institution that provides reproductive health services for many, largely low-income women, should not receive the money because they provide many abortions in the United States. Under current law, however, the money Planned Parenthood receives only pays for non-abortion services, including birth control, cancer screenings, and care for venereal disease.
This entire debate is in many ways very bizarre. If in fact the issue is Planned Parenthood in particular and family planning in general, then the Republicans have made a tactical error that will confirm to many voters that they are in fact not worried about jobs. It also serves to mitigate some claims by tea partiers that they are in fact, libertarian. Although tea party Illuminati have tried to disavow the cause of social issues or cloak it in fiscal responsibility, many rank and file are not truly libertarian in that they are quite rabid about social issues. Were this not the case, Boehner, who is ostensibly being held hostage by his right flank, could cut a deal.
|Capitol Hill (wikipedia)|
As America's first tanorexic Speaker (no offense to true anorexics), Boehner is in an unenviable position. As many from the right, left, and middle have said, Boehner, a 20 year veteran of the House, is used to cutting deals. The bulk of his caucus's freshman are not. In fact they see deal cutting and compromise as among the evils that have brought on the country's troubles. Boehner could bring a deal to his caucus and get a fair amount of support for it. Coupled with Democratic votes, there would be a majority in the House and the Senate, equally eager to end this madness would quickly pass it. However, that would fracture the GOP House caucus and expose Boehner to a challenge for speaker. Eric Cantor, compared to a "yapping chihuahua" in a Matt Taibbi Rolling Stone article slamming Boehner for general buffoonery, would gladly come to the fore. Even worse for Boehner, he could face a tea party challenge back home in Ohio.
For President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Boehner is by far the lesser of two evils. Still, to keep him in power would mean giving up everything, which is untenable for Obama and Reid both from a policy and from a political point of view. The left wing of the Democratic party has been muted throughout this process, especially as defense cuts began to enter the equation (although this is unconfirmed so far). While the discretionary cuts disgust liberals, they become a bit more tenable if the defense/security budget is open to reduction as well. Moreover, liberals used to abuse from the Democratic party anyway, know that bigger fights lie ahead and they cannot afford to start an intra-party war like the one on the other side of the aisle.
|Food Stamp Logo (wikipedia)|
The cuts themselves are quite painful. With Republicans in Congress clinging to the trickle-down myth of lower taxes for the rich though, only some carefully chosen cuts can show an effort to seriously and responsibly bring down the deficit (remember many mandatory spending programs, like food stamps are triggered by need and rise when more Americans meet eligibility). Not to mention, some of the cuts to which Democrats are agreeing are for things they want out anyway. Still, the cuts are all the more painful since they are only from the 12% of the budget that is non-discretionary and non-security. Bloated budgets like defense and security are largely left untouched (the contractors which benefit contributing heavily to campaign coffers and dangling jobs in Congressional districts protect it)
Whatever the outcome of this misadventure, Democrats must be wary of allowing the GOP to force debate to the extreme right by passing budgets and legislation that epitomizes extremist lunacy. Democrats thinking they could pass a budget with zero cuts was a pipe dream. The best barometer to compare Democratic action is the budget vote earlier this month (that got Scott Brown in trouble) when they suggested a paltry $10 billion in cuts. From a mere policy perspective that was generous, but politically it was not. Still, they have been drawn into considering cuts up to four times that amount. If the same thing happens with Rep. Paul Ryan's budget (oh, just you wait until we get our proverbial hands around his metaphorical neck), then the nation and the Dems are in real trouble.
Right now, with Planned Parenthood front and center, it is not surprising some Republicans in the Senate are trying to get the House to drop the issue. Anti-choice Senators like Tom Coburn and Pat Toomey know they stand less of a chance of becoming committee chairman if (self-proclaimed) "moderates" like our boy Scott Brown are caught voting for another budget that sticks it to women's health.
Still, the House GOP is unmoved. The right flank wants what it wants. It believes that government is inherently bad and incompetent. Unfortunately, they are now a driving force in that government and no less than partly responsible for the bumbling that results in the government shutting down. If government fails at this point, it is because the tea party/right wing forces it to so, not because government naturally sucks.